“But as we listen carefully for this next right thing, it is good for us to remember we are not necessarily seeking something we do not already have. The very practice of seeking can sometimes presume we are not where we need to be, and that whatever we have right now, or whomever we are this minute, cannot possibly be enough.” – Wayne Muller
Years ago, I read two books written by Wayne Muller and both remain on my bookshelf: How Then, Shall We Live?: Four Simple Questions That Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives (1996) and Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest (1999). His most recent book was published six years ago, but I just heard about it when it was recommended in one of my groups. The topic of enough is just as relevant as it’s ever been — maybe even more so.
Muller has been a minister, therapist, advocate, and spiritual director. He is also the founder of Bread for the Journey, an organization focussed on ordinary people becoming neighborhood philanthropists. Muller is intimately aware of the challenges people face as they try to balance the demands and expectations from without and within. He writes openly about his own attempts to navigate life’s complexities.
The book is exactly what the title suggests: a thoughtful collection of short chapters/essays on being, having, and doing enough. Although I read it from beginning to end, next time I might just go to the table of contents to see what grabs my attention. I think the essays will be just as meaningful and thought provoking read that way.
Muller begins the book with the words, “We have forgotten what enough feels like.” Everywhere he goes he meets people who are overwhelmed and exhausted by all the things they are doing, and all the other things they still need to do. For many, there no longer seems a way, or a time, to ever be done. The sense of enough for now—followed by time to breath, renew, rest—never kicks in. The burden of doing is never ending.
The book is a thoughtful consideration of this very real dilemma, both the damage it is doing and how difficult it can be to shift the pattern. Muller doesn’t tell readers how to resolve anything. Instead, he offers opportunities to listen to our own lives, as he shares his personal observations and understandings of what we are facing and what might make a difference.
If you are easily irritated by the use of religious quotations or references, you need to look at the book for yourself before you decide to purchase it.
For all of the curious readers, here are the four simple questions from How Then, Shall We Live?: Who am I? What do I love? How shall I live, knowing I will die? What is my gift to the family of the earth?
“Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart—to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.”
– Mary Oliver
If you’ve read my newsletters for awhile or sat at the purple table in my office—writing, then you’ve encountered a few of Mary Oliver’s beloved poems. You might have even shared your own favorite(s) with the rest of us. And you might have heard me read from my favorite essay, Pen and Paper and a Breath of Air, from her book Blue Pastures.
“By no means do I write poems in these notebooks. And yet over the years the notebooks have been laced with phrases that eventually appear in poems. So, they are the pages upon which I begin.”
In addition to her many, many books of poetry, Oliver is the author of several works of prose. Upstream, her most recent book, is a collection of essays, many of which appeared first in Winter Hours (1999) and Blue Pastures (1995).
This is a slim volume—a great place in which to lose yourself. It might be a lovely gift this winter season.